To the Teachers of Unselfishness. The virtues of

To the Teachers of Unselfishness. The virtues of a man are called good, not in respect to the results they have for himself, but in respect to the results which we expect therefrom for ourselves and for society: – we have all along had very little unselfishness, very little “non-egoism” in our praise of the virtues! For otherwise it could not but have been seen that the virtues (such as diligence, obedience, chastity, piety, justice) are mostly injurious to their possessors, as impulses which rule in them too vehemently and ardently, and do not want to be kept in coordination with the other impulses by the reason. If you have a virtue, an actual, perfect virtue (and not merely a kind of impulse towards virtue!) – you are its victim! But your neighbour praises your virtue precisely on that account! One praises the diligent man though he injures his sight, or the originality and freshness of his spirit, by his diligence; the youth is honoured and regretted who has “worn himself out by work,” because one passes the judgment that “for society as a whole the loss of the best individual is only a small sacrifice! A pity that this sacrifice should be necessary! A much greater pity it is true, if the individual should think differently, and regard his preservation and development as more important than his work in the service of society!” And so one regrets this youth, not on his own account, but because a devoted instrument, regardless of a self-so-called “good man,” has been lost to society by his death. Perhaps one further considers the question, whether it would not have been more advantageous for the interests of society if he had laboured with less disregard of himself, and had preserved himself longer – indeed one readily admits an advantage therefrom, but one esteems the other advantage, namely, that a sacrifice has been made, and that the disposition of the sacrificial animal has once more been obviously endorsed – as higher and more enduring. It is accordingly, on the one part, the instrumental character in the virtues which is praised when the virtues are praised, and on the other part the blind, ruling impulse in every virtue which refuses to let itself be kept within bounds by the general advantage to the individual; in short, what is praised is the unreason in the virtues, in consequence of which the individual allows himself to be transformed into a function of the whole. The praise of the virtues is the praise of something which is privately injurious to the individual; it is praise of impulses which deprive man of his noblest self-love, and the power to take the best care of himself. To be sure, for the teaching and embodying of virtuous habits a series of effects of virtue are displayed, which make it appear that virtue and private advantage are closely related, and there is in fact such a relationship! Blindly furious diligence, for example, the typical virtue of an instrument, is represented as the way to riches and honour, and as the most beneficial antidote to tedium and passion: but people are silent concerning its danger, its greatest dangerousness. Education proceeds in this manner throughout: it endeavours, by a series of enticements and advantages, to determine the individual to a certain mode of thinking and acting, which, when it has become habit, impulse and passion, rules in him and over him, in opposition to his ultimate advantage, but “for the general good.” How often do I see that blindly furious diligence does indeed create riches and honours, but at the same time deprives the organs of the refinement by virtue of which alone an enjoyment of riches and honours is possible; so that really the main expedient for combating tedium and passion, simultaneously blunts the senses and makes the spirit refractory towards new stimuli! (The busiest of all ages – our age – does not know how to make anything out of its great diligence and wealth, except always more and more wealth, and more and more diligence; there is even more genius needed for laying out wealth than for acquiring it! Well, we shall have our “grandchildren”!) If the education succeeds, every virtue of the individual is a public utility, and a private disadvantage in respect to the highest private end – probably some psycho-aesthetic stunting, or even premature dissolution. One should consider successively from the same standpoint the virtues of obedience, chastity, piety, and justice. The praise of the unselfish, self-sacrificing, virtuous person – he, consequently, who does not expend his whole energy and reason for his own conservation, development, elevation, furtherance and augmentation of power, but lives as regards himself unassumingly and thoughtlessly, perhaps even indifferently or ironically, this praise has in any case not originated out of the spirit of unselfishness! The “neighbour” praises unselfishness because he profits by it! If the neighbour were “unselfishly” disposed himself, he would reject that destruction of power, that injury for his advantage, he would thwart such inclinations in their origin, and above all he would manifest his unselfishness just by not giving it a good name! The fundamental contradiction in that morality which at present stands in high honour is here indicated: the motives to such a morality are in antithesis to its principle! That with which this morality wishes to prove itself, refutes it out of its criterion of what is moral! The maxim, “Thou shalt renounce thyself and offer thyself as a sacrifice,” in order not to be inconsistent with its own morality, could only be decreed by a being who himself renounced his own advantage thereby, and who perhaps in the required self-sacrifice of individuals brought about his own dissolution. As soon, however, as the neighbour (or society) recommended altruism on account of its utility, the precisely antithetical proposition, “Thou shalt seek thy advantage even at the expense of everybody else,” was brought into use: accordingly, “thou shalt,” and “thou shalt not,” are preached in one breath!

 

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